“Everyone, let’s all flush the toilet simultaneously every three days!” -- this might sound like a prank, but it is in fact a suggestion that has recently been made to some 1.5 million Zimbabweans. The municipality of Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, expects the measure will help clear clogged sewers.
The first “big flush” took place last Saturday at precisely 7:30 p.m. The aim is to prevent rubbish from choking up the sewerage system, which has already been damaged by a lack of water. The synchronisation of flushes increases the water pressure in the pipes, thus facilitating the evacuation of rubbish. The results from the first flush were not conclusive, but the municipality has already ordered the operation be repeated every three days.
A dry manhole.
Since Zimbabwe was hit by a severe drought, the residents of Bulawayo have been living under very tight water restrictions. About a month ago, the municipality noted that most of the city’s reservoirs were nearly empty, and decided that the water supply would be cut for three days every week.
Lack of water is a chronic problem in Zimbabwe, a landlocked southern African nation where there has been very little long-term investment to improve water supply and treatment systems.
These photos were taken on September 25 in the township of Makokoba, in Bulawayo, by our Observer Mthokozisi Ndebele.

“It’s hard to imagine Bulawayo was once regarded as the cleanest city in southern Africa”

Mthokozisi Ndebele, a languages and communications student at Lupane State University, lives in the Norwood neighbourhood of Bulawayo.
Two of the five dams that supply Bulawayo are completely dry. The other three are about to reach that point. The first water restrictions were ordered last June. At first, they lasted one day, then one and a half days. Today, the stoppage lasts for 72 hours at a time. With the water we receive on Monday morning, for example, we fill containers so that there is water until Friday. Then on Saturday, the water supply is cut again until Monday, and the process continues.
For now, there is no cholera, but people fear there will be an epidemic. Without being able to wash our hands properly, we are being exposed to diseases and infections. [Editor’s note: in October 2011, 6,000 cases of acute diarrhoea were reported in the south of the country, and in 2008, an epidemic affected 100,000 victims and killed 4,500 people.]
Mthokozisi Ndebele filmed these images in April 2012 for the program Voices of Africa, which promotes citizen journalism initiatives in Africa.
All the suburbs and townships of Bulawayo have defective sewerage and overflowing manholes. When I filmed these images in April, the problem already existed, but the drought has made things worse. Today, rubbish and wastewater stagnate. The city’s deterioration is very worrying, especially as Bulawayo was once regarded as one of the cleanest cities of southern Africa [Editor’s note: Bulawayo experienced a golden age after being founded in the middle of the 19th century and becoming an industrial centre. However, for the past decade, the city has struggled to recover from deindustrialisation].”
Post written by FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.